Formula SAE-A reflections

Formula SAE-A weekend always holds a special place in my heart, but this year’s event was by far my favourite to date. 

The 2019 Business Event judging team. Photo taken by

The competition between the teams was fierce and the EV teams are making leaps and bounds each year, developing more reliable and more competitive cars. Close to half of this year’s field was EVs, a marked increase from just a few years ago. And, who knows, maybe within the next five years, the committee is able to make the call to have two independent events each standing proud with what they have to offer. 

Each year, the students’ vision for the future of engineering and automotive capabilities continue to grow. Two teams displayed their autonomous, self-driving cars, with a view to maybe creating an autonomous Formula SAE-A class in the not too distant future.

Even though Monash took out both overall IC and EV class wins, there were some standout teams that gave Monash a real run for their money. Most notably for me, RMIT Electric Racing with an 0.04.88 Skidpad time, the fastest out of any EV or IC and the University of Auckland placing first in the Presentation Event, breaking a long-standing history of near misses for our Kiwi friends. Monash no doubt is a dedicated, hard-working team and deserve every accolade, but it’s nice to see other teams knocking on their door.

The Career Expo was another huge success, attracting local, regional and international firms to network and meet with our soon-to-be engineering and business graduates. Providing this link to industry is such an important part of Formula SAE-A and I hope that it continues to grow each year.

On a personal level, this year was one of many firsts for me.

It was my first time as part of the organising committee working alongside the other committee members to bring the event to life. It was my first time as an Event Captain, running the Business Presentation event from start to finish. I particularly enjoyed working with the other judges and the conversations that took place after each presentation. 

Last year, a number of improvements were made to the running of the Presentation Event and I’m looking forward to taking on board the feedback from this year to continue to elevate it. 

My absolute highlight was interviewing legendary F1 aerodynamicist, Willem Toet and his wife, Sue. The wind didn’t do us any favours, but for my first ever on-camera interview, I’m pretty chuffed with the result. 

I also loved speaking with the students and learning more about their roles within their teams and how they are planning to use this experience once they graduate.

The weekend culminated in an epic all-team photo and the awards presentation where we had the chance to recognise the hard work put in by all of the teams.

Taking the time to reflect on the last few months in the lead up to Formula SAE-A 2019, I remember being on my team while at uni thinking that one day I’d like to be more involved with the event. It was by happy chance two years ago that I was introduced to someone who could make that a reality. 

I love this event and everything it stands for. It’s an equal platform for men and women to showcase their talents and abilities. It’s a place where students from all disciplines can gain hands-on experience in project management, leadership, business and engineering skills that they will use for the rest of their lives.  

While I’m very much enjoying some downtime, I’m already looking forward to 2020.

Any opinions expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Formula SAE-A. 

Highs and lows at Retro Round for Jack Smith

I spent this year’s Supercars Sandown 500 Retro Round doing social media for the Brad Jones Racing Super 2 Series #21 car of Jack Smith. I put together a short wrap of the weekend for the team and wanted to repurpose it for myself.

It was a weekend of mixed conditions and mixed results for Jack Smith in the #21 SCT Motor Sport Team Commodore.

Friday – Practices 1 and 2

Friday’s practice results did not go the way Jack Smith had hoped to mark his opening laps of the weekend at the Penrite Oil Sandown 500. Running in the top 8 for the first half of Practice 1, Jack got into a bit of trouble during the session triggering two red flags. 

Unfortunately, Practice 2 unfolded in much the same way as Practice 1, resulting in a small drop down the order from the Practice 1 finish when the chequered flag flew. 

Finishing 7th with a 1:09.30 in Practice 1, and 10th with a 1:09.11 in Practice 2, the team looked to make some set up changes to improve their position going into Saturday’s qualifying session.

Saturday – Qualifying

What had hoped to be a promising start to Saturday’s qualifying, ended with disappointment. The team had made some changes to try to come back from Friday’s lacklustre results. However, the gains they were looking for didn’t eventuate. 

Throughout most of the 15-minute session, Jack was sitting in the top 8 when he locked a wheel and speared into the infield halfway through the session. Unable to recover, Jack finished in P13 with a best time of 1:09.15.

Saturday – Race 1

It was a wet and wild start to the first race of the weekend with about half the field, including Jack, opting for a change to wet tyres just moments before the green flag. The last-minute change proved fruitful, with Jack ultimately crossing the finish line in P2.

“Most people were on wets, but maybe five cars were on slicks, and they ended up having to pit during the safety car and change to wet. Without the team making the decision, we would have been in a lot more strife.”

Jack Smith

However, contact with Matt Chahda early in lap one resulted in a 15-second time penalty levied against Jack.

The only safety car of the race was triggered on lap 18 when Brenton Grove speared off into the grass due to contact with another car and hit the wall at Turn 3.

Resuming at lap 15, the now time-certain race saw more spins and offs from several competitors as well as increasingly wet conditions.

The shortening of the race combined with the 15-second penalty relegated Jack back to 9th place.

Sunday – Qualifying

The grey, but dry skies made for a much better start to the day than Saturday. Super2 Series qualifying was the first session on track, paving the way for the rest of the day’s events.

The time to beat, a 1.09.02, was set early by Ash Walsh. The majority of the field, including Jack, opted to pit midway through the session. 

With two minutes left, Jack set his first representative lap, jumping to 6th, before quickly being bested and falling down the order to 9th, finally finishing in P13 with a 1.09.00, six-tenths off the pole sitter, Image Racing’s Jordan Boys.

Sunday – Race 2

In stark contrast to Saturday’s race, Race 2 started sunny and dry. Running a similar set up to yesterday, Jack and the team were looking to capitalise on the gains they made from their setup tweaks going into Saturday’s race and come back from the less than ideal qualifying position. 

The session start was delayed due to a crash in the earlier Toyota 86 session. Even though the delay caused the race to go time certain, all 22 laps were completed.

Unfortunately, Jack had a bit of trouble during the start, and he dropped back to 15th just off the line. Struggling to drive a car he wasn’t entirely happy with; he managed to recover three spots to finish in 12th.

“It was a terrible race from the start. The car wasn’t as I’d like it and I wasn’t driving as I like to. There aren’t many positives from today.”

Jack Smith

Jack finishes the weekend 7th in series points with 890 points, 746 adrift from the series leader, Bryce Fullwood. Catch the Super2 Series for their final round of the year at the Coates Hire Newcastle 500 from 22-24 November.

The week I spent at sea

Carnival Spirit at sunset

I never thought I’d be the type of person to go on a cruise. I had an abstract idea of the type of person who went on a cruise, and while I couldn’t exactly define it, I knew it definitely wasn’t me. I was even a little embarrassed to float the idea of a cruise to my boyfriend when we were starting to think about what we wanted to do. We were both desperate for a holiday, and I was ready to go almost anywhere, as long as there were a pool, cocktails and lots of relaxing involved.

Holiday requirements

When I looked at the requirements, going on a cruise was the clear winner. Not only did it meet all of the aforementioned criteria, but it was also cheaper than any of the other options we had come up with and we got to spend a bit of time exploring a place we never would have been too otherwise.

It turns out, there isn’t a cruise type. There were so many people on board from all walks of life that my notions of the type of person who goes on a cruise were completely shattered. Is there a certain type of person who works on a cruise, definitely, but for those of us who don’t spend six to eight months at a time at sea, there is no shortage of normal ways to spend seven nights at sea.

Getting into the carnival spirit

We chose a Carnival cruise from Syndey to Noumea, Isle of Pines and back. We spent the four sea days on the Spirit, one of two ships to be permanently based in Australia, doing almost nothing, with lots of time by the pool, taking advantage of the unlimited food and iced tea and picking and choosing the activities and entertainment that we wanted to do. The two excursion days were filled with snorkelling and learning about the history of French colonisation in the area. We spent the final day onboard looking up other cruises that we want to do.

The best part for me was the effort that goes into creating an atmosphere and environment that all passengers will enjoy. From families with young kids to those with teenagers, groups of friends, young couples, older couples and whatever else in between you can think of, there was something to interest everyone. You could call it an all or nothing approach, and where we took the close to nothing approach, there was no shortage of activities to keep everyone occupied.

The main lobby was decorated for Halloween and the continued the theme throughout the week with a costume night and the legend of Patch the Pumpkin Pirate. While we chose the buffet most nights for dinner, the main dining room was a chance to meet your fellow passengers and participate in the Cruise Elegant, Caribbean and Halloween costume nights. We thoroughly enjoyed the comedy shows and the movies on the deck by the pool were a great way to relax in the evening.

On to the next

Whatever I thought about cruises before I went on one, I’m forever a cruise convert. We met a couple who were on their 51st cruise, and while I can’t imagine hitting that number any time soon, it’s comforting to know that we’re in good company.

A few cruise snaps

Five years of FSAE-A

UTS Motorsport electric

December is a time where my newsfeed is full of comp results, congratulations and reflections of the FSAE-A year that was. Teams are either rejoicing in their success or committing to regroup and come back swinging the following year. Some just want to share the mountains of photos that they took during the year but never posted, providing a year-long snapshot that you can flick through in a couple of minutes.

The cycle is always the same, as the competition gets closer, teams start posting more – testing videos, photos of parts being manufactured, a group working on their static presentations. Just as quickly as the content ramps up, so too it starts to fade. In only a few short months, maybe even less for some teams, the cycle begins all over again, because December 2019 really isn’t that far away.

It’s now well past FSAE-A 2018, and the photo galleries and videos have slowed down as students acclimate to normal life. The first few weeks post comp is a glorious time for teams. For a little while, the deadlines are behind them. They can go to bed at a reasonable time and get a full night’s sleep – something that probably didn’t happen much during the lead up to the second weekend of December.

It’s the reflection posts that I like the most. While it’s good to celebrate your achievements, if you don’t stop to think about where you can from then you can’t appreciate where you are now. It’s these posts that inspired me to write this. It’s been five years since my first, and only, FSAE-A as a competitor and so much of what I’ve done since 2013 has been directly shaped by those 18 months.

If it weren’t for UTS Motorsports, I wouldn’t have started volunteering with Supercars. I wouldn’t have met some of the most hardworking and dedicated people I know, who I’m lucky to call my friends. I wouldn’t have had the opportunities to be involved with the Bathurst 12 Hour, RX Aus or the Australian Motor Racing Series (AMRS).

I think I’ve written about this before, but when I think back to when I first stepped on to the track at Werribee, I can still feel the excitement I felt and the moment of, ‘this is what I want to do with my life.’

So much of that week is a blur, but the things I do remember are etched into my memory forever.

The sadness we felt when we thought the engine was cooked on Saturday after the first dynamic events and then the exhilaration when it came back to life.

How confident I was going into Business Presentation, and how deflated I felt when we only came sixth.

The exhaustion of pulling together Design documentation until the early hours of the morning, and the relief when it was all done.

Teaching Sylvie how to drive manual through the dormitory carpark. The whole team staying in a dorm with two other university’s teams. Everyone working together to get shit done and hoping for the best outcome at the end of the weekend.

Even now I miss that. Walking through the pits at Winton in 2018, I wished, just for a second, to be able to go back and do it all over again.

I joined UTS Motorsports my first year of uni. I wanted to be involved and feel like I belonged to something. My first two-and-a-bit years of college in the States were not what I had always hoped they would be.

When I started at UTS, I promised myself that I would have the university experience I always wanted and would make my studies more of a priority than I made them before.

I had never heard of Formula SAE before finding the UTS team on the university’s website. I knew nothing about it other than you got to build a race car and compete against other universities at the end of the year. I reached out to the team, not really sure what I could offer since I struggle to add 2+2 most days and to build something like a car, I imagined, required a lot of math.

Luckily for me, they needed business students.

I dropped into the workshop a few days before classes started in 2013, and they couldn’t get rid of me for the rest of the year.

If you’re not familiar with the competition format, there are four dynamic and three static events designed to test the students’ understanding of everything that goes into making a competitive race car. One of those events is a Shark Tank-style presentation where you have 10 minutes to pitch your business model and car design to a panel of investors to convince them to give you money to bring your concept to life.

I only attended one comp as a member of my team.

There were a lot of team members graduating or who had made the decision to not be active members of the team the following year due to final projects and other academic commitments the following year and nothing was quite the same. I wasn’t enjoying it anymore and until that point, I had always been someone who just kept going and didn’t know when to give in, even if the situation was no longer a healthy or positive one. Leaving in the middle of the year was a tough decision because I felt like I was letting the team, and myself down.

I made some great friends in 2013 and had to learn to separate the two things – the friendships would still be there even if the team weren’t. That was probably the most challenging lesson to learn because would we still be friends without the team in common? The relationships did change, but the friendships never went away.

I flitted in and out of FSAE-A for the next few years. I attended a few comps as a spectator to cheer on UTS Motorsports as they changed from combustion to electric and settled into the new location at Calder Park.

At the end of 2017, thanks to a random series of events, I was introduced to someone who helps organise the Presentation event. We kept in touch over the coming months, and when it was time to start pulling together volunteers for 2018, I jumped at the chance to judge the Presentation event.

The calibre of the presentations and the effort that went into putting them together blew me away. Most of the teams seemed better prepared and much more on their game then when I was in their shoes five years before.

In 2018, my comp experience came full circle, and I’m eager to see what challenges and opportunities 2019 brings for me, the competition and the teams. With its new home at Winton Raceway, I see nothing but big things ahead for our Australasian competition.


Becoming less busy

Ovens River in Bright, Victoria - becoming less busy

In 2019 I want to do more but be less busy. It sounds like a strange concept, but I’m determined to make it work. You see in 2018 I revelled in being busy. Being busy has become the catch cry of my generation. We all have our side hustles and our regular jobs and our dreams of doing more and being more. We’re all so incredibly busy that if we’re not careful another 12 months will go by and we won’t know what we did or why we did it. Most of 2018, my last year in my twenties, is a blur. I don’t want to feel the same at the end of my first year in my thirties.

I woke up New Year’s Day (cliché I know) and decided that enough is enough. I’ve been thinking about being less busy for a while now, but the thought actually terrifies me. When I’m busy, I have an easy excuse for why I don’t keep in touch with the people I love better or why I don’t have time to go to the gym every day. Busy is nothing but an excuse preventing me from getting where I actually want to go.

2018 was a year of excuses, with my most common one being “I’m too busy.” We’re now three days into 2019, and I’ve already caught myself falling into old habits. I know it won’t be easy, but another year of doing so many things, but really doing nothing will be just as hard.

So how am I going to do it?

I’m going to be ruthless with my time. I’m going to ask myself if whatever task I’m currently doing is pushing me in the direction I want to go or if it’s just busy for busy sake.

I’m going to prioritise time for myself. That’s the gym, reading, getting quality sleep and photography and writing for the joy of it.

I’ll find inspiration and motivation wherever I can – I started writing this one handed on my notes app while on the elliptical and finished it in as a passenger in the car on the way home from a picnic and swim in the Victorian High Country.

Our time is our most precious commodity, and we give it away without too much thought. Learning how to better manage my time is going to be one of my main goals this year. Work smarter, not harder (again, cliché) will be my mantra, and I’m going to keep myself accountable with regular written check-ins, like this one.

I don’t want to say something like “big things are going to be happening this year,” because, well I don’t know that for sure yet. All I do know for sure right now is that I’m the only one who can make things happen in my life if I want them to happen. So, here’s to a happier, healthier and more productive 2019!

You can have your avocados and your house deposit too

This is the beginning of our house building story and we hope that our journey will inspire you and provide answers to some of the million questions we’ve had during the process.

I want to start by saying that my boyfriend and I love avocado toast. We buy avocados to eat at home and when we go out for breakfast. Yes, avocados are expensive, but the bad rap they have been given over the last few years just isn’t fair.

Avocado toast has been singled out as one of the main reasons why first-time homeownership rates are falling and the median age for first home buyers is rising. What started out as a casual, joking observation by a Melbourne journalist quickly grew into a generation-defining debate about everything that is wrong with Millennials, especially when it comes to having the discipline to save for a house deposit.

In 2015, we were both living with our parents while we finished studying and trying to find a rental in Sydney that we could afford was a scary prospect. Neither of us really wanted housemates or to live in an apartment, and we were both over our long commutes with terrible peak hour traffic. We already lived in some of the ‘cheaper’ western and south-western Sydney suburbs and the idea of moving farther west wasn’t appealing. I was spending up to three hours a day commuting, and Danny had the pleasure of dealing with the M4.

Not long after we both finished university, Danny was offered a job in Albury, NSW and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. We saw it as an opportunity to get some balance in our lives and remove the stress of finding an affordable place to live. In January 2016, we packed everything up and moved to a city we hadn’t been to and barely knew anything about.

I don’t remember exactly when we started talking about buying a house. We had found a nice enough rental in Albury – the house was bigger than we needed and cheaper than anything we could have found within a 100km radius of Sydney. But, the rental estate agents were terrible, and the owner showed up whenever he felt like it.

Once the idea of buying our own place was there, it was hard to shake. I found myself wanting to look at lighting and cabinetry all of the time. We started talking about it more, what we wanted in our own house, how much we wanted to spend, where in Albury we wanted to live and whether we wanted to build or buy an established house.

As our lease was coming to an end, we made the decision to move to a cheaper house to help boost the house deposit savings. A few more months went by before we started getting serious about looking for our own place. We knew we were still a little off of our target deposit, but we thought it was a good idea to check out a few open houses and see what was around. We also toured a few display homes to compare what was available with what we could build ourselves.

Most of the established houses we looked at in our price range needed a lot of work, which wasn’t something we were prepared to do at this stage. I love the idea of an older fixer-upper with a bit of charm and a solid personality of its own. But, my teenage years were spent living in a house under constant DIY renovations that I don’t think were ever really finished, so I wasn’t keen on reliving that.

I think Danny thought I was a little crazy when I said I was serious about wanting to build. Thankfully, he went along with it and we spent two solid weekends visiting every display home and block of land for sale in Albury and Wodonga. Danny being mathematically minded of the two of us, created a spreadsheet showing the land size to cost ratio to help us understand where we could get the most value for our money.

We (meaning I, because I’m incredibly impatient) started to run out of steam when we couldn’t find land the size that we were looking for that fit our budget. I even floated the idea of looking at some established homes to see if anything caught our eye. There were a few promising ones, but we still had the same issue of them all needing more work than we were willing to do after spending the majority of our budget on the purchase price.

By this point, it was mid-February 2018. There was one estate that we really liked, but the current stage was sold out and the next stage wouldn’t be ready for release until closer to the end of the year. We decided to shelve the idea for a while, save a bit more and see were at in a few months.

I’m not exactly sure how or why, but a few weeks later, Danny came across a well-hidden listing for a block in the first stage of our preferred estate that had recently come back on the market. About four weeks later, we had organised pre-approval with a broker, put in an offer and bought the land.

It’s difficult to describe, but we knew from the moment we saw the block, that this was the one for us. We had narrowed down a few floor plans, and the next step was to meet with the builders and lock in a final design.

This process took much longer than we thought it would and I was under the delusion that the build was going to start two weeks after buying the land at the end of April. It’s now the middle of August and we’ve just signed off on the final plans, the rest of the mortgage has been approved and we’re waiting for the building to start booking the tradies.

The inspiration for this post and all of the subsequent posts is to hopefully answer some of the questions that we had and help others make sense of the house building process. We found so much information on how to buy an existing house, but building is completely different. But there is so much more to this than just organising the finance – buying or building as a pretty permanent decision and there are so many things to think about – far more than we realised at first.

Winton SuperSprint – hits and misses

Winton SuperSprint hits and misses

I don’t get to nearly as many races as I’d like to during the Virgin Australia Supercars season. But Winton is one round that I am yet to miss since starting volunteering with Supercars in later half of the 2015 season.

The relatively quiet Supercars races offered up some unexpected wins and disappointing losses. By contrast, the challenging weather conditions on Saturday morning put the Aussie Racing Cars to the test in what was effectively a trial run for the night race scheduled for Supercars at Sydney Motorsport Park later this year. The Touring Car Masters navigated the wet conditions on Saturday without incident, while an error on the restart after a lengthy safety car period in race 9 prevented a clean sweep of the weekend by Steven Johnson. For V8 Touring Car’s Jack Smith, the road to round victory was a bumpy one, but the young driver was ultimately able to extend his championship lead.

Hits and misses, ups and downs, wins and losses – whatever you want to call them – here are my thoughts on the weekend that was the 2018 Winton SuperSprint.

Rick Kelly’s win – hit

There was something very poetic about Nissan Motorsport’s performance this weekend. There’s no doubt that the past week has been a rollercoaster ride for the Kelly brother’s Melbourne-based team after Nissan confirmed that it will no longer back the team after the end of this season.

Nissan Motorsport’s weekend started off with a strong start in Friday practice with Rick Kelly and Michael Caruso topping the charts in the final practice of the day. The momentum continued throughout the weekend where the pair locked out the second row in qualifying for races 13 and 14 and both finishing in the top 10 on Sunday.

Scotty’s save – hit

Race 14 on Sunday started as many have recently, Scott McLaughlin was on pole. Once the lights went out, Scott dropped from first to eighth within a matter of seconds. As the field swallowed him up, an early call to pit from engineer Ludo Lacroix gave him the clear air he needed to make up the lost ground.

Scott worked his way back through the field to finish third behind teammate Fabian Coulthard and Shane Van Gisbergen.

The SuperUtes – hit

‘Boring’ and ‘slow’ were two words I heard used to describe the fledgling SuperUtes category over the weekend, but I must disagree. This is a brand-new category finding its feet and I think we’d all do well to let the drivers and teams settle in before writing them off. Winton was only their second round and it’s nice to see something different on the track.

Maybe next year they can open up the dirt section of the RXAus track to give the utes a little purposeful off-road action?

Winton itself – hit

The track is home to both maiden wins – Tim Slade in 2016 during his first year with BJR – and high-profile teammate clashes – James Courtney and Garth Tander in 2015. There seems to be a collective less than enthusiastic view of Winton. Maybe it’s because I’m still relatively new to this game, or maybe because it’s just not true, either way, I tend to disagree with the humdrum response that this track can elicit.

Over the last few years, the Benalla Auto Club has been working tirelessly to improve the facilities and securing money from the state to resurface the track in 2016. Winton is one of the few places where you can pack up the tent and camp trailer and make a weekend out of the race. Camping was sold out this year and last year, and it’s good to see the viewing areas packed with spectators during the sessions.

Percat’s broken promise – miss

This one hits hard for me, given my connection to Brad Jones Racing. The home-town advantage didn’t do much for BJR even though a strong practice 2 result for Nick Percat on Friday seemed to suggest otherwise. Making his way to third in Friday’s practice, Nick showed a glimmer of promise to repeat his strong results in round two at Albert Park. Nick qualified 10th and 15th and finished 18th and 14th on Saturday and Sunday.

Dave’s dismal weekend – miss

I like David Reynolds. He calls it like he sees it and isn’t afraid to err on the side of slightly inappropriate. He and Erebus are a good fit, and he’s starting to come into his own as a driver since signing with the squad last year. I’ve enjoyed seeing their collective successes this year and proving that you don’t have to be a powerhouse team to win races.

It was disappointing to see him finish last of the classified drivers in race 13 due to the damage he sustained in the early laps of Saturday’s race.